Do you believe in the power of social media? I do, and if you've met me, I've probably tried to convince you why you should, also. I'm a social media cheerleader—or evangelist, a term I first heard used by a friend of mine.
I'm going to continue to use the phrase social media for recognition purposes, but I'm of the same mind as this poster on Advertising Age that there's no need for the term—it's simply digital media.
I find those who are most doubtful are those who simply hopped on a site—be it Twitter, Facebook or Digg—looked around and left. "How can this benefit me?" they often ask me. Or even more frequently: "I want to, but I don't have time." And the truth is, yes, you have to invest time. But after becoming more engaged with the community and your audience, whether it's readers, customers or colleagues, you'll realize it's well worth it.
So here's some of my tips about how to use that time wisely and build and foster an engaged online community:
• Start by knowing why you're there. What do you want to get out of your social media interactions? Begin with a vision for the community you want to engage in and then put plans in place to create that ideal for yourself or your business. Be strategic in who you want to talk to, listen to and interact with and what topics are most pertinent.
• Once you've created your profile, reach out to other people. This is not a matter of register and they will come. You have to find your audience. Use services such as twellow.com to find people near you geographically. Find out who the key influences are in your area. Use tags, hashtags or word searches to find people talking about the topics you are also interested in. Find other people in your industry and learn from them. Follow, friend and interact with these people.
This will take the most time commitment in the beginning, when you are getting started and seeking out the community. It's not going to build itself. I say about three or four weeks of really immersing yourself, and you will gotten yourself a great head start. After that it will be just enjoying the community and building on that strong foundation.
• Engage with the people in the community you've built, and do it regularly. No one expects you to be online every second, but be available and prompt, just as you would in every other form of communication. People are quick to realize who they can rely on and who they can't, so be someone reliable. It's as true in social media as it is in real life.
• Be genuinely interested in the people in your community. If you're not online because you're interested in connecting with other people, then reevaluate why you've signed on in the first place. I follow readers and community members because as a journalist and as a person, I'm genuinely interested in brainstorming and sharing ideas with them. Retweet or share their information that you find valuable or think others in your community might be interested. This makes people more willing to do the same for you. Just like in any other community, one good act usually yields many more.
As you become involved in the community, you'll quickly find that you get much more than you give. There's so many amazing people out there sharing ideas, engaging in conversations and supporting each other. Yes, there is some negativity—that's human nature and it's impossible to avoid. But there's so much more of the good stuff, if you're willing to open your mind and find it.
And I hope you'll be following me @triblocaltara or @taramaytesimu, so I can see how it goes for you. I'm out there cheering you on!